U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has called a federal court conference for Saturday morning to discuss the county’s imminent plans for moving hundreds of Santa Ana riverbed homeless people currently in motels, to county shelters or medical facilities.
In addition to attorneys for the county and homeless people, city managers across Orange County have been invited to give input at the 9 a.m. hearing in the Santa Ana City Council chambers.
The council chambers are located in the Civic Center, home to another large homeless camp that has existed for years outside the offices of city council members and the Orange County Board of Supervisors. It’s unknown if Carter will refer to that camp as well when discussing the riverbed homeless.
Last month, as part of an agreement in a federal lawsuit, the county moved more than 700 people off the Santa Ana riverbed and into motels and other shelters, for temporary stays of at least 30 days. After that, the county is obligated to place people in other types of housing.
“Without ‘appropriate resources,’ unsheltered individuals returning to the streets, sidewalks, plazas, and parks in the cities of Orange County could be at risk, simply because of their homeless status, of being criminalized under anti-camping and anti-loitering laws,” Carter wrote in a court document.
At Saturday’s hearing, Carter will determine whether the county is providing appropriate resources to prevent people from becoming homeless again.
For weeks the county did not divulge its plan for homeless people after the initial 30 days. But Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved up to $2 million to use toward shelter beds.
At the same time, county officials said they will not extend any of the motel stays and homeless people will need to move to beds in existing shelters or mental health and medical facilities. If they run out of room, CEO Frank Kim has the authority to contract for additional beds without returning to the board for approval.
But attorneys representing former riverbed homeless clients, Brooke Weitzman and Carol Sobel, argue the beds available in current shelters aren’t enough, and that people who can’t go to shelters because of mental health problems and medical needs will not be accommodated.
There’s no plan for where or when additional beds will be added, they argue, leaving “well more than 500 individuals relocated from the Riverbed without shelter and competing with the additional 2300 unhoused persons in Orange County for the limited resources that exist.”
Weitzman and Sobel filed a request Thursday asking the judge to prevent the county from moving people out of motels until after Saturday’s hearing.
Thursday evening, Carter denied the request but ordered the county to track the outcomes of all people moved from the motels, and provide Weitzman and Sobel with their names and housing placements.
In another filing Thursday, Sobel and Weitzman gave examples of individuals who were given housing placements that they say don’t accommodate their needs and others who were given confusing, conflicting or sparse information.
Andrea Phipps, a pregnant woman with medical complications who relies on her partner as a caregiver, has been referred to a mental health facility, despite not having mental health needs, the filing states. She has not been told where the facility is or if her partner, who works but does not make enough for rent, can join her.
Another woman, Mildred Aufenkamp, agreed to a placement at the Bridges at Kraemer shelter in Anaheim, but later was told to contact another organization, City Net, for a shelter placement.
After making repeated calls to City Net that went unanswered, she attended a public City Net meeting in Anaheim, where representatives of that organization told her to contact the County because she is not their client, according to the court filing. Later, Aufenkamp received a notice saying she had declined a referral from City Net.
Shane Allen, a man who is confined to a wheelchair after a stroke and also suffers from stage 4 cancer, has a “weakened immune system that makes a shelter an inappropriate placement for him,” the filing states. Allen received a notice referring him to a mental health facility and telling him to contact City Net for referral to a shelter. According to the notice, he will be transported at 9 a.m. Friday, although Allen doesn’t know where he will be placed or whether his wife, who is his caretaker, can come with him.
County officials, in court filings and to reporters, have said the county has enough resources and beds for all the homeless people who will accept their services. They say if county health care workers have determined certain people “are found to require a single-space bed, the County can and will find and offer appropriate accommodations,” according to a court filing.
Couples now can stay together at the Courtyard Center in Santa Ana, an outdoor emergency shelter, according to the court filing.
The county also is working on a contract with a women’s shelter, known as WISEplace, for an additional 60 shelter beds that will be available in early April, according to the court filing. People with small dogs will be allowed to stay at that shelter, while others will be asked to put their dogs in kennels.
The county has assembled a response team, known as the Coordinated Homeless Assessment and Response Team (CHART) comprised of health care and social service workers as well as Sheriff’s deputies and probation officers. The team will be dispatched to cities to respond to people who may leave the motels and return to the streets.
“Except for persons gravely disabled due to a mental disability, the County cannot compel or coerce the motel-housed population to accept shelter,” the county argued in a court filing. “If individuals do choose to return to the streets, CHART teams will be available to assist and have access to treatment beds as well, contrary to Plaintiffs’ assertion.”
The county began clearing a massive homeless encampment from the Santa Ana Riverbed on Feb. 20. By the following week, officials said all people on the riverbed had been moved to motels and other shelters, and closed the riverbed to the public on Feb. 26.
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